All Your Discipline Questions Answered. No, Seriously.

How to discipline kidsFor many of us, our job as parent is fairly easy until our children begin to be able to voice their wants, needs and opinions with some vigor. At this point we adults are faced with issues we didn’t anticipate, and many of us are sorely unprepared for how we react when our previously lovely children no longer do what we want them to do when we want them to do it!

And this is probably just about when the questions about “how can I discipline my children?” begin.

I remember asking those questions. I remember feeling so frustrated, and so exhausted, and so useless as a parent when my son and daughter would do the exact opposite of what I told them to do, or when they would fight endlessly about nonsense, or when I would end up screaming because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I read every book and asked every expert and tried every technique (some of which worked, many of which didn’t). Ultimately, all of this is why I started this blog – to help those of you who became parents after me short cut to the good stuff.

Today I have some super AMAZING good stuff for you (so good that I am actually writing a post on my blog which lately has been sorely neglected because of other writing projects – I am so sorry and thank you to all of you who are sticking with me and I promise I will be back here soon). And yes, this amazing good stuff has to do with discipline, and your kids, and making parenting easier! And don’t forget to read to the end because I have a little surprise for one lucky reader.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while – or follow me on social media – know that I am a huge fan of Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson. Together they wrote one of the most ground-breaking and widely read parenting books of the last couple of years, The Whole-Brain Child (which has been since translated into 18 languages and if you haven’t read it yet, you must). This book introduced parents to the latest information on how their child’s brain develops and responds to the world – therefore showing parents why children behave the way they do.

The fact that this book is being shared around the world with parents, grandparents and teachers is an amazing testament to how many of you out there are hungry for information on how to understand, respond to, and connect with the children in your lives.

No Drama DisciplineI was thrilled when I learned that Dan and Tina had written a new book called No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This book not only gives us a deep understanding about what is happening in our child’s developing brain when she is acting out, but it also gives adults a window into understanding the best way to respond in the moment.

Best of all, No-Drama Discipline educates adults in understanding the true meaning of the word “discipline”: To Teach. The book is filled with science-backed explanations for why a connection-based response to children’s behavior gives you the results you’ve been looking for. So, instead of being a book full of gimmicks to get our kids to “behave” (a short term survival goal), this book teaches us how to use those difficult parenting moments to create connections in the brain – and between people – in order to build skills, self-discipline, and health (a long-term goal to strive for)!

Ultimately, I know that what we all want for our children is for them to grow into being resilient, happy, kind and respectful people who make their way successfully in the world. And, as Tina says.“I really believe that if we can reduce violent, harsh, and scary parental responses and increase more conscious, kind, and intentional ones, we can promote insight, empathy, and kindness in the world.” This book gives you the ability to do all of this, while strengthening your relationship with your children.

This video below gives you a much better idea of what this book is all about. You can read more here on the website for No-Drama Discipline which also has reviews and links for purchasing the book.

hope I’ve intrigued you enough to pick up a copy of this book for yourself – and maybe even one for friends (or teachers) who struggle with the idea of how to instill positive behavior in their children without resorting to punishment.

No-Drama Discipline is officially released tomorrow – Tuesday, September 22nd – and I’m thrilled to say that I have been given a signed copy of the book to give away to one reader! All you need to do to enter the giveaway is:

  1. Share this post on social media, tagging both myself and Dr. Tina Bryson (I’ll include those links below).
  2. And leave a comment below telling us why you think this book could be helpful to you and your family! I’ll reply to your comment below, so make sure you check back or better yet, Please be sure to include a way for me to contact you in case you win!

That’s it. I’ll choose a winner at random (thank you, random.com) this Friday, October 3rd at 1pm PST. The lucky winner will be announced on my Facebook page!

So, go forth and share! This book is going to be a game changer!

Twins And Postpartum Depression: Amber’s Story

postpartum depression twins-min

“Recent research pinpoints hormonal imbalance as the cause of PPD, making mothers of multiples particularly at risk for this condition due to the increased hormonal fluctuations that accompany their pregnancies. The intensified demands of caring for two, three or more infants make it even more likely that a mom of multiples will feel overwhelmed, drained or depressed after her babies are born.” ~ Multiples.about.com

There are times I look back on the early years with our twins and wonder if I had some form of postpartum depression. I didn’t think I had anything at the time, other than exhaustion, anxiety, irritation at my husband and the occasional bouts of depression I had battled all of my life.

Whether it was full blown PPD, I can’t say for sure. However, given that some research shows that 43% of mothers of multiples experience Postpartum Depression, it’s certainly a possibility.

Recently a mother in my multiples club shared her story of PPD and kindly agreed to let me interview her here. Amber Weitz is a stay at home mom to 28-month old twin boys, Connor and Jake. She is also a photographer and former Photo Editor at People Magazine and Berliner Photography.

Please read Amber’s story and, if you are moved to do so, share your own in the comments. If you have resources to share, please add them as well. The more we recognize the symptoms of PPD, the more likely we are to reach out to friends and family to help.

The more we see our own behaviors and experiences in others, the more we know we are not alone.

The Twin Coach: What were the early days with your babies like?

Amber Weitz: For me, it was very difficult to recognize the difference between sleep deprivation, the complete life changing event of having a baby (much less, twins) and depression. I truly thought I was going to go crazy when my boys were around 3 months old and still not sleeping more than 2 hours at a time. Their sleep was getting worse, not better. I was doing the nights by myself because my husband needed to sleep in order to work 12-15 hour days. We were all barely surviving. I was keeping it together on the outside because I loved my boys and needed to be strong for them, but I was falling apart on the inside.

It turned out that my husband had the male version of postpartum depression during the first two months. He had a very difficult time adjusting to our new life. I was 38 and he was 52. We both had lived long lives of being able to do exactly what we wanted to do at any given time up until that point. Having twin boys with colic knocked us into oblivion.

I just didn’t expect it to be that hard.

TTC: Had anyone told you and your husband what to expect with having twins?

AW: I remember attending an Expectant Parents Meeting and listening to everyone talk about hiring nannies and night nurses, and I was thinking that they were all crazy. How hard could it be? But, once the boys were born, I was constantly irritated at my husband for not helping enough or being able to predict what was needed.

I had to have a heart to heart with him to explain that I didn’t get pregnant alone and that at some point he had wanted these babies, too. I was pissed off that he expected me to thank him for every little thing he did. I told him he wasn’t just helping me, he was the dad and needed to jump in and just “do.”

It didn’t help that he dropped one of our boys on his head at 8 weeks old. He was paying more attention to our dogs than our infant so the baby slipped and landed on his head on cement. I spent the rest of the day in the ER with doctors running tests to check for brain damage. Talk about adding to the stress!

My husband hadn’t bonded with our babies and didn’t know what to do with them. All they did was cry, eat and poop. They were blobs to him. He didn’t have a drop of paternal instinct in him and I had to teach him everything (not that I really knew what I was doing, either). During those first 8 weeks, I could see it in his eyes; he just wanted to jump out the window and escape. I could read his mind, “When will I ever play volleyball again? When will I surf again? When will I get my life back” It was so bad that we had to stage a family intervention. Around this time I realized that I blamed my husband for contributing to my PPD. In order to move on, I needed to forgive my husband for his lack of baby knowledge, for having PPD himself, and for dropping our son.

That was my first step toward healing.

TTC: What did you do to try to make things better in the beginning?

sleeping-minAW: I sleep trained my boys at 5 months and they were sleeping through the night by 6 months. By 7 months, they were sleeping 11-12 hours each night. 6-8 hours was not good enough to me, I went for the full 12 hours. I needed the break and the sleep. I was overwhelmed by all the tasks that went along with taking care of twins on a daily basis – the feedings, the dishes, pumping, supplementing, changing diapers, dressing, bathing, simply being “on” all the time.

I had a lot of anxiety which went along with these tasks. Even leaving the house brought on anxiety. I didn’t believe in myself as a mother, I didn’t think I could do it all, especially alone. We ended up hiring a nanny at 4 weeks to work 1.5 days per week, though I wish we had hired a night nanny those first two months. I was mad at my husband because he got to escape and have adult conversations. I almost went back to a job I hated because it was a lot easier than staying home with my babies!

TTC: Was there anything that you feel may have made you more vulnerable to experiencing PPD?

AW: My 17-year old sister died in 2007 of unknown causes. I was absolutely devastated for years afterward. She died a week before my bridal shower and 3 weeks before my wedding. She was supposed to be my maid of honor and was leaving for college the next week.

Looking back, I know I was in and out of depression due to her death and also not being able to get pregnant. We started trying right after her death because I wanted to create a life, not to replace my sister, but to bring something positive out of a tragic event. It took us 3.5 years to get pregnant.

After every test, I was diagnosed with “unknown infertility.” Five failed IUIs later, we decided to try IVF. I had a sonogram prior to my first round of IVF which detected three uterine polyps. Once those were removed, we proceeded with IVF and two months later, I was pregnant with twins! We were elated!

I had a fairly easy pregnancy and loved being pregnant. Feeling my boys kick and constantly move around was the best feeling in the world! So, to go from that feeling to having crying, colicky twins and relatively no sleep was a shocker. I wish I had known that my earlier bouts of depression, plus all of the drugs I was given during fertility treatments, could contribute to my having PPD!

TTC: What made you realize your level of stress wasn’t typical?

AW: What is a normal amount of stress when raising two infants at the same time? It felt normal at the time, given the circumstances. In the past, I had seen news items where a mother killed her children due to Postpartum Depression. The stories I heard always seemed to involve parents forgetting their children in the car, moms who couldn’t be in the same room as their child, and more extreme cases. That was what I thought PPD was, not what I was going through!

Recently I watched the trailer for a documentary called “When the Bough Breaks,” which is what inspired me to finally write down my thoughts. Awareness is key, even if it is after the fact. If you can look back and think, “Wow, I was not in my right mind,” you have made progress.

Once my boys turned 1, I still wasn’t back to normal and I knew it. I did everything I could to get back to “normal” on my own, including stress relieving acupuncture, Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), and massages, but I was still depressed. I also saw a therapist, sought hypnotherapy, and received a handful of readings from psychics. I finally sought help through my doctor and he prescribed anti-depressants. After several different prescriptions, the feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious were finally gone.

TTC: How did things change for your husband?

AW: Once my boys developed personalities, started walking and playing sports, my husband finally bonded with them. I never would have thought it would take that much time. Unless men, or sometimes women, have grown up around younger siblings, taken care of babies, changed their friends’ babies diapers, they don’t always have that instinct most women have.
My brother and sister were born when I was a teenager. I felt like I had already been a mom because they were so much younger than I was. I changed their diapers, babysat, took care of them until I left for college.

My husband’s postpartum depression may have shifted naturally, but I think our family intervention helped. My mom, brother, and brother- and sister-in-law gathered in our living room and said the words I couldn’t. They told him how he was making me feel, how he needed to become a dad and help more with the babies. They were so good at not making him feel backed into a corner. His moods and attitude started to shift from that moment.

TTC: Why are you sharing your story now?

AW: I realize it’s a very sensitive subject, which a lot of people don’t want to talk about. I have never seen a post on our multiples club forum about postpartum depression, nor do friends, other moms, or family tend to talk opening about PPD. I remember a friend of mine mentioning she had postpartum depression, but it was after the fact. She was able to tell me stories after she had already gone through it with both of her children – and it was extreme. I wish someone, anyone, had clued me in on the many different forms PPD could take. Even a hint would have helped.

Just remember, you can only reach out for help when you are ready and self-aware. You are not alone! Be sure to get help if you feel like you are drowning.

TTC: Are there any tips or resources you can offer friends, family and parents of multiples themselves to be aware of so they don’t suffer for as long as you and your husband did?

AW: Therapy is a good first option. I know it is difficult to get out of the house, but make time for yourself. Talk to fellow multiples moms and dads. I think a good percentage of parents have some of the symptoms of PPD. If you don’t have a close friend or relative you can talk to, get help through a therapist.

Be sure to join a multiples Mommy and Me class and a multiples club/playgroup. It is so important to have the support of other parents in your same situation. I bonded with many moms over how difficult it was to take care of two babies in those first few months. Leaving the house used to be very difficult, now I don’t think twice about it. My playgroup has been instrumental in helping me overcome my fears. I can’t stress enough how supportive a playgroup and fellow parents in a multiples club can be. It has been a truly amazing experience and now I want to help other parents!

If you do not feel like you are experiencing any symptoms of PPD in the first 6 months, hooray! But be aware of late onset PPD, which can present symptoms up to one year later or sometimes more (like me). Once my boys were sleeping through the night, I didn’t understand why I still felt overwhelmed, anxious, and angry. It became worse between 12-18 months. Maybe I had a form of PTSD from the first 6 months. My hormones may have gone crazy once I stopped breastfeeding at 12 months. Or I might have had premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) or been in early peri-menopause. Either way, the symptoms were the same. If you are experiencing sadness, depression, anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, extreme moodiness, irritability or anger, please talk to a doctor.

Fear Is What We Must Unlearn: Mindfulness And Happier Parenting

I went to bed, crying, the other night.

I told my husband it had been a bad day. The children argued often. Our daughter was especially difficult at various moments. I lost my temper too much. No one listened to what I needed. It felt as though everyone, including the dog and cat, wanted something from me every single minute of the day.

I felt disconnected, both from my family and from myself. It was my son’s special night to fall asleep in our bed with me and when the lights went out he was on the far side of a king-sized bed feeling like I didn’t want him there.

So he cried.

And I cried.

This, Too, Shall Pass

Recently, on a Facebook page I moderate for families with neuro-diverse kids, I was having a conversation with some friends about the phrase, “This, too, shall pass.” Parents use it often in jest when talking about tough moments with their children. Sometimes for parents of a neuro-diverse child it does seem like perhaps their kid will always be “that kid” and maybe “this” won’t actually pass. Maybe, you think to yourself, I will always be taking my child to different therapies every day of the week. Maybe my child will never be comfortable making friends. Maybe my child will always struggle with being especially anxious and rigid.

Fear Talking

The fear of “what should be” can take over for some people. This is not just for parents of special needs kids. I know plenty of parents whose kids are typically developing and yet, the parents get themselves tied up in knots, thinking “she is never going to eat vegetables!” or “he is always so shy with other kids, how is he ever going to make friends?” Or “He should be potty trained by now, why is he still in diapers? ”

You may notice, in your more mindful moments, that what happens when we start speaking like this is that most likely there is a little commentary that comes after those worried sentences that you say only to yourself:

“She is never going to eat her vegetables and I am afraid she is going to develop terrible eating habits and get fat and have cavities and feel terrible about herself!

“He is always so aggressive with other kids, how is he ever going to make friends? I am afraid that no one will like him and he will end up being a bully and have no friends and maybe he will blame me and maybe I am a terrible mother because I don’t know how to help him!

“Why is he still in diapers? His brother was potty trained at this age…is there something wrong with him? Maybe he has a terrible delay that I have missed! Maybe it’s my fault! I should be doing more/less/something different than I am doing!

I often refer to this as “Fear Talk”. The insidious thing about it is that we aren’t even consciously aware that we are Fear Talking. Because these are sentences we don’t dare say out loud for fear they will come true or for fear they will make us look crazy. They live somewhere in our subconscious. But Fear Talk can make us lash out at our children or we internalize the emotions this talk creates and we erupt in myriad other ways. We let our fear take over and it has a mind of its own.

But if we did dare, if we did say them out loud, we could really understand the things we fear when our children’s behaviors push our buttons.

The night I cried myself to sleep I think I had gotten caught up in feeling as though my daughter’s difficult behaviors were never going to change. Going through my head were phrases like “she is never going to stop overreacting!”, “she always refuses to take other people’s perspectives!”, “she makes everything so difficult!”, “She’s being mean and obnoxious to her brother!” Additionally, I fall into a habit I like to refer to as SHOULD-ING: “she should be different than she is”, “she should be less obstinate”, “she should do what I ask her to do without throwing a fit”. But where does shoulding-ing on my kids get me?

Pay Attention As The Weather Changes

Obviously, I know in my heart that our daughter doesn’t always do anything. And I know, logically, that focusing on how I think things “should be” doesn’t help and only makes me miserable about what IS. And really, truly, I know she is struggling with a lot of things that cause her difficult behavior. But, in tough parenting moments when her emotional challenges make even the smallest conflict into a cataclysmic event, I sometimes have trouble being logical. I get triggered. and my negative frame of mind can take over in such a way that I get stuck feeling like my life is just a big, black cloud of crap.

And it will continue to be crap.

Forever.

I know many of you struggle with those same sort of thoughts – whether it’s depression, exhaustion, stress, overwhelm, special needs kids, single parenting – whatever it is, it’s not easy to drag yourself out of that pit you keep digging with your Fear Talk and should-ing. “I am afraid I will never be the mother they need”, “I am afraid they will end up on the therapist’s couch talking about how I ruined their lives”, “I am afraid to tell my husband that today was so hard because I don’t want to give him anything else to stress about” “I should be able to handle this without losing my temper” “I should be a better parent/partner”…there are so many variations.

you are the skySo, I do know my life isn’t a big, black cloud of crap.

There are moments I feel like it is, but if I don’t latch on to those moments, they really do pass. It is sort of like watching the weather. We can lay back and notice the sky or the temperature changing and we simply notice it. We don’t give meaning to the weather; we don’t try hold on to a beautiful day because we fear it will never come back. We don’t curse the storm as it happens, because we know it will ultimately pass. There is no should-ing. Weather just is. Hot sun, cool wind, blistering cold, dark nights…they are backdrops to our daily existence.

So are our emotions.

To be mindful of our emotions means, in essence, to notice them as they rise up, to be aware of them as they shift, pass on and new feelings show up. Like the clouds. These emotions do not need to have meaning attached to them. There does not need to be Fear Talk. The process of noticing an experience with my daughter as she is expressing herself in a rigid and anxious manner might go something like this:

When she acts this way, I feel so tense! I feel angry!
I notice my heart beating fast.

When she rolls her eyes and sticks out her tongue I feel like throwing something. My hands are clenched.
My body feels so tight.
I feel the urge to yell.
I feel the urge to change her behavior.
I notice how much I want to do something.

That is curious to me.
Why do I need to do something?
Deep breath.

I need to remember who she is and what my goal is.
Deep breath.
Remember what you love about her.

I notice how small she is.
My body is feeling more calm.
I feel sympathy for how hard this can be for her.
I remember that she struggles with so much.
I feel softness in my face and jaw.
I want to help her.

All of this is in my head and can take many minutes from start to finish. Because it still doesn’t come so naturally to me, I am not always able to accomplish this intention of being so present with my daughter. But because I know what extreme anger some of her behaviors trigger for me, I have to set a real intention to make mindfulness a part of my daily life.

The more I practice, the easier and the more automatic being mindful in such a stressful environment becomes. But mindfulness needs to be practiced for its own sake in stress-free situations, not just when there is an urgent need for it, so that one gets a feel for it. Only then does it becomes a resource.

Mindfulness practice is greatly aided by choosing to set time aside regularly to meditate. There are always other pressures, many responsibilities and lists of things to get done that take precedence over just sitting, or just walking, in a mindful manner. However, that kind of practice provides a base, or anchor, for remaining mindful when habitual tensions or reactions are triggered.

Finding Sunshine Amid The Clouds

The funny thing is, I have been trying to write this post for about a month but kept getting stuck because I didn’t know what point I was trying to make. But today, now that I finally got back to it, coincidences are hitting me over the head about the point I am trying to make.

Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog, “Hands Free Mama” is a favorite of mine. Yesterday she shared a post called “Thank You Not-So Pleasant Moments In Life” in which she wrote about finding a new perspective:

“…discover life’s daily blessings among the distractions and challenges of life. I call this approach “Glimmers of Goodness.” Because having a full and complete day of goodness is hard, maybe even impossible, with life’s daily stresses of children, bills, schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, and pressures. But finding Glimmers of Goodness within a day is possible—even when you are irritated, annoyed, or frustrated. In fact, it is in times of overwhelm that I can find these bright spots most easily. It may sound odd, but I’ve been taking each not-so-pleasant experience or feeling and thanking it. And from that place of gratitude, I find a Glimmer of Goodness.”

hardwiring happinessAnd because I’m sitting in jury duty today (hence the free time to actually write a long-delayed blog post) I am also reading Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence which has been on my “must read” list for a while. Strangely enough, this book is not simply about brain science (one of my geeky loves), but it is also about mindfulness.

In the early pages of the book, the author reminds us that we must not only observe our minds in order to get past worries, stress, anger or sadness, we must actively seek out positive experiences – what he refers to as “growing flowers” in our brains – so we increase our inner strength and ability to handle tough times.

“Merely witnessing stress, worries, irritability or a blue mood will not necessarily uproot any of these. […]the brain evolved to learn all too well from negative experiences, and it stores them in long-lasting neural structures. Nor does being with your mind by itself grow gratitude, enthusiasm, honesty, creativity, or many other inner strengths such as calm and insight that enable you to feel all your feelings and face your inner shadows even when it’s hard” ~ Rick Hanson, PhD

So, focusing on the “shoulds” and the Fear Talk keeps our brains – and thus, ourselves – rooted in the experiences that make us suffer. Instead, noticing the good moments (or thanking the no-so pleasant moments) and being aware of them for more than the fleeting second we usually zoom past them, helps us ultimately cultivate the sort of brain that stays connected, peaceful and dare I say…happy…during times that would have previously sent us flying into tantrums and tears.

Happiness Revealed

This 2011 TedxSF video from Louie Schwartzberg originally planted the seed for this post. As I watched it, I heard these words from Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast:

“Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don’t think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.”

After watching this beautiful video numerous times, I sat with that quote and something in my mind prompted me to replace the word “sky“, with the words, “your child“. I then replaced the word “weather” with “behavior“. And so I began to think about her good weather, her bad weather and her unique weather.

Was I really seeing it?

Or was I simply should-ing it?

The Power That Words Have: Strengthening Your Child’s Inner Voice

“There is no greater pain than feeling you are not enough.
Your child is enough, right now, just the way he is. And so are you.”
~ Vimala McClure, The Tao of Motherhood

Years ago, in a class I was taking, the subject of weakness came up. We were asked to stand in front of another person and hold our dominant arm out to the side of our body, parallel with the floor.

Holding it firm, the other person would push down on it and see if they could make the arm drop. We were all able to hold our arms strong against the physical pressure.

Then we were asked to think about what makes us feel weak.

In recent years we have become familiar with the new view on the childhood rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. We know that words can hurt. Words sting. Words have power. Words even kill. But what many don’t acknowledge or realize is that it’s the words we say to ourselves, that hold the most power.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Words themselves do not hold power. But when we believe those words, when we repeat them over and over, when we pass them on to others, words can have a devastating effect.

The second part of that classroom lesson involved standing again in front of our class partner while holding that same arm out. This time we were asked to think of what we thought of ourselves deep inside, to concentrate on the words we used to describe ourselves that made us the most ashamed, the phrase we said over and over to ourselves that kept us from achieving the things we most wanted in our lives.

negative self talk“I am too old”
“I am too fat”
“I am not smart enough”
“I don’t have enough qualifications”
“I am too poor”
“I am unloveable”
“I am not enough as I am”

Holding that negative belief in our heads, or saying it out loud if we felt comfortable, our partner once again pushed down on our dominant arm. This time, no matter how hard we resisted, our arm quickly fell to our side. The simple act of holding a negative belief about ourselves made us physically weak.

Restating that belief in its opposite, “I am the right age”, “I am the right weight”, “I have the perfect qualifications”, “I am smart enough”, “I have enough money”, ” I am loved” or just simply, “I am enough”, our arms once again were unable to be pushed down. No exercise, no lengthy training, no therapy, just a change in how we spoke to ourselves about ourselves, made all the difference.

That little voice that says we are not enough has immense power. It can keep you from loving and from being loved. It can stop you from pursuing your dreams. Perhaps even worse, it may stop you from even daring to have a dream to follow. I would guess that many people who carry hatred in their hearts for others hold the belief “I am not enough” deep down in their hearts.

Sit with that statement, “I am not enough”, and notice what it feels like inside to believe that. Imagine that feeling being a part of your every day experience.

inner-voiceWhere do we pick up this sort of thinking? No child is born feeling anything but fully worthy of love and affection. But there are very few adults who don’t have insecurities that make up a tender achilles heel. When I became a mother one of the lessons I learned early on is this Peggy O’Mara quote, “the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Tell your daughter that she is a brat or a bully, and that’s how she comes to see herself. Tell your son that he is lazy or stupid and those are the words he will tell himself when he is struggling.

But it goes further than this. Even if you would never think of using words like “stupid” with your kids, pay close attention to your dialogue throughout the day. Overwhelmed and frustrated parents often say things like, “you are always so mean to your brother!”, “you’re so slow, why can’t we ever get out of the house on time?” or “what is wrong with you? Why do I have to tell you this over and over again?”.

When your child is faced with adversity or is in a situation where she doesn’t have you around to remind her to do what is right, what you want is for her to have an inner voice that says to her, “I can do this, I always figure things out!”, “I’m not going to hang out with that group, they don’t make good decisions”, “I’m disappointed that girl doesn’t want to be my friend. But I’m pretty awesome and will make a new friend”.

I am enoughOur children’s inner voices start with the words we say to them. What we say repeatedly to our children makes a difference. It shapes who they become, how they see themselves and what they believe is possible for themselves to achieve.

If the words “I am not enough” can instantly weaken your physical body, imagine what a lifetime of holding a positive self image can do for your child.

“Sometimes, we throw small bits of grace and compassion out into the world and they float away like helium balloons so far that we don’t know what becomes of them…But sometimes, someone hangs on. We don’t know to which moments. We don’t know to which kindnesses. It’s simply our job to keep making more balloons.” ~ Beth Woolsey

41 things to say to your children that can strengthen their inner voice (plus 3 bonus questions to ask):

  1. You are everything you are supposed to be.
  2. I love you exactly the way you are.
  3. You were made for me.
  4. I am so lucky to have a child like you.
  5. There is nothing you could do that would make me not love you.
  6. My heart is so full of love whenever I see you.
  7. I believe in you.
  8. You can do it.
  9. I know you’ll make a good choice.
  10. You are such a kind friend.
  11. I love being with you.
  12. When you hug me I feel wonderful.
  13. You always know how to make me feel better.
  14. Your laugh makes me so happy.
  15. I love spending time with you.
  16. I love the way you think about things.
  17. I learn so much from you.
  18. You’re so much fun.
  19. You really know how to focus yourself.
  20. You know how to make good decisions.
  21. I know you’ll figure it out.
  22. I want to hear your ideas.
  23. Your curiosity is so inspiring!
  24. I love to watch you ________.
  25. I will love you no matter what.
  26. You really know how to be a good teammate.
  27. You really listen to your body and know when you are hungry/full.
  28. I noticed how gentle you were with your baby brother.
  29. You do things that I never even tried when I was your age!
  30. You really noticed every detail. You are so observant!
  31. I noticed that you were scared, but then you _____ anyway. That was really brave.
  32. Thank you for choosing me to be your mom/dad.
  33. My favorite part of the day was when you and I _______.
  34. I noticed how easily you shared with your friend today. You really know how to make other people feel good.
  35. When you were only ____ years old you weren’t able to do that, but now that you’re _____, I notice how easily you can ______!
  36. I want to spend more time with you.
  37. You are more important to me than my work/phone/email.
  38. Wow! You did all of that without me having to ask? You really know how to do so much on your own!
  39. I never thought of it that way. I changed my mind about things because of the way you made your point.
  40. It must have been hard for you when _____. I was so proud of you for sharing your feelings/standing up for yourself/speaking up for your friend.
  41. I noticed what a difference you made by doing that.
  42. {bonus questions} Teach your children that when they are tempted to say something to someone else, to ask themselves first: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”. If you can’t answer yes to all three, keep it to yourself or reframe it.

It is not always easy to keep this positive frame of mind, especially if you struggle with your own negative inner voice. But I have always found it easier to compliment others than to compliment myself. So I began there. Changing a bad habit requires being mindful of the fact that you have the habit to begin with. Take the time to notice the way you speak to yourself and your children. Make a pledge to improve it even if it feels awkward at first. I hope this list is a start!

I am starting 2014 with the reminder that I am enough and I look forward to you joining me.

Happy New Year!

Birth Trauma May Be Subtle, But Addressing It Can Be Powerful

Without having given it all that much thought, when I heard the term “birth trauma” I had always assumed it always meant something such as when birth had to be induced prematurely because of an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, or where the baby struggled to get through the birth canal but then had to be pulled back up for a c-section. To me, I pictured birth trauma as…well…really traumatic. What I hadn’t fully considered, until recently, is how traumatic birth can be for some babies, even without additional complications.

babyJGiven that I was carrying twins, I would say that their birth was essentially uneventful except that our daughter was born an hour and 10 minutes after our son. Most people react to this with the realization that 1) I didn’t have a c-section with twins and 2) that I had to wait an hour and 10 minutes to push out the second baby. There was nothing wrong, the doctor had said to us, the second baby just wasn’t ready to move down yet. So we waited. I think I passed out because I don’t really remember that hour. I have always told this story with the punchline being that once our son came out, our daughter realized how much room there was and didn’t want to leave. “She was doing things in her own way, on her own schedule…just like always” I would say, laughing.

But, maybe I had that wrong.

As Peter Levine and Maggie Klein show in their groundbreaking book Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes,

“…trauma resides not in the external event but in how the child’s nervous system processes that event. Based on Dr. Levine’s decades of pioneering work, they make clear that it’s in the storage and freezing of unresolved emotions triggered by adverse events that create the long-term negative impact.”

The event doesn’t need to fit into our idea of what is traumatic. It can be as simple as falling off a bike, or having someone laugh at something you said. What matters is the way your child processes it and then copes with it.

Our daughter has had issues separating from me for a number of years. Not just your average separation anxiety, but behavior that had me seriously stressed out for her. She would clutch at me and wail when I left her at preschool (even with teachers and children she had known for years). She would do the same when I stayed home and her father was taking the kids out for the afternoon. Bedtime could be an enormously long, drawn out affair. Basically, it was becoming a nightmare – as much for her as it was for us.

sibling happinessOn top of this, although she loved her twin brother dearly and and always thought of him first when it came time to give a gift or share a treat, she would fight tooth and nail for alone time with me. When I showed him attention and asked her to be with someone else, she would dissolve into tears or erupt into a rage. Again, basically age-appropriate behavior, but as I learned from my interview with the author of The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, the differences,

“…involve frequency, severity, intensity and duration. These are typically the hallmarks that make something diagnosable as opposed to something more typical. However, this is not the most important question for people who are concerned about their children’s behavior. The truth is, what is concerning to one parent may not be as concerning to another. Some people have a higher tolerance to certain behaviors and may respond less reactively, thus adding less fuel to the fire. What needs to be asked is, ‘is my child’s behavior negatively impacting him or her and our family?'”

This upset didn’t happen all the time, but my overall sense of our daughter – starting from around the age of 3 – was that, more often than not, she clung to me like a barnacle, seemed excessively fearful about being separated from me and wasn’t rational when it came to my spending time with her brother. Sometimes it was only one of the three, other times all of them combined with a dash of rage thrown in for good measure. There were other issues, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Last weekend I had spent a long time alone with her while dad had her brother at soccer and then out for dinner. She and I had a wonderful afternoon spent drawing, making rubber band bracelets, having a “spa day” together and just being together. At the end of the day we curled into my bed and lay, under the covers, reading her new favorite book The Snow Queen. She was peaceful, relaxed and at ease. We turned out the lights and talked quietly.

Then her brother came home – late. Dad went out to walk the dog and, telling her I would be right back, I jumped up to get his teeth brushed and get him ready for bed. She remained in the dark, in my room. Alone. She called to me over and over to come back. I kept answering that I would be there in a minute, that I had to get her brother’s pajamas out, brush his teeth and so on. She was getting more and more hysterical. When he tried to join us in my room for a snuggle, she wouldn’t let him into the bed and became completely overwrought. Our son began to wail that he needed mommy time, too, and my triggers started flashing. I felt pulled in too many directions, I felt I couldn’t make everyone happy. I lost my temper with her.

Screaming and crying, she ran into her bedroom and pulled the covers over her head. Wailing and sobbing, she screamed “get away from me!” over and over again as dad tried to comfort her. Eventually it switched to a more plaintive cry for mommy. With a deep breath to calm myself I went in to her room to try and help.

As I curled up behind her and put my hand on her back, I began to put light pressure on her body, which usually helps calm her down. She struggled to catch her breath and cried more softly. I began to narrate…

“You didn’t want me to be with him. You wanted me all to yourself, didn’t you?”

Somewhat angry voice: “Yes! You are always with him!”

“I wasn’t paying attention to you. I was focused on him. Did you feel like I had forgotten all about you? Did it feel as though I wasn’t thinking about you?”

Her crying opened up again and it got harder (generally a good clue that I’ve hit on something she feels deeply). I increased the pressure on her back as she pushed into me.

Suddenly, something popped into my head and almost without thinking I said to her, “baby…you know how I always tell the story of when you were born and we laugh and say how when your brother came out you weren’t ready and you wanted to do it your own way?”

Quiet crying.

“Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe to you it didn’t feel that way? Maybe to you it felt more like suddenly the person who had been right next to you your whole life had left and you were all alone and didn’t know how to get out. Maybe you were scared.”

The crying opened up again and she shook with sobs.

“Did you think we were only paying attention to your brother and that we had forgotten you?”

Through her tears she said, “I was calling and calling you and you didn’t come!”

Crying, crying, crying.

Hugging her from behind, “I never forgot you, baby. We were waiting for you. Everyone was waiting for you! You were never in danger, but I understand it must have been scary. I’m sorry you felt that way…you don’t have to feel that way any more. I am always thinking of you and you never have to be afraid that I will forget you even when you are not with me. Even when I am with your brother. You are in my heart always.”

Her crying got heavier and she turned to face me and curled up with her face buried in my hair and sobbed for a while. Eventually, her cries became softer. As her emotions regulated she took in a big, broken, deep breath and quieted down. I kissed her tear-stained face and whispered, “I love you”.

Breathing softly, she said, “I love you, too, mommy.” And she pulled the cover over her shoulders and fell asleep.

In the days since this episode she has been very different. Where she used to insist that I keep my eyes on her at all times in the yard before school, or would forcibly drag me to drop her at her classroom and throw a tantrum when I stopped to talk to a friend – now she’s running off to play with her friends and heading to class on her own. It’s not as though she won’t have setbacks here and there, but the change is remarkable. And this story seems to resonate for both of us – to her it feels as if it fits and to me I feel as though I’ve opened a small window into understanding some of her behaviors.

beautiful smileWe’ve been down a long road with her. This fear and anxiety is only part of what is going on for her. I am still working through the puzzle that makes up my sweet girl, but I am sharing this part of her story in the hope that those of you reading this will consider the idea that the answer isn’t always so black and white. A child acting out can’t always be explained by the standard child behavior expert answers. Sometimes you have to try on a different pair of glasses, or look at things from another angle, to really crack open what may be going on.

It can be so tempting to punish a child for “bad” behavior and insist that they are manipulating us to get what they want. But the reality is, children are using every skill they have in their attempt to be loved and accepted. They need our help – not to fix them, but to scaffold them in understanding how to help themselves.

“Because the capacity to heal is innate, your role as an adult is simple: it is to help the little ones access this capacity. Your task is similar in many ways to the function of a band-aid or a splint. The band-aid or splint doesn’t heal the wound, but protects and supports the body as it restores itself.” – Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes

Your child will stumble and make mistakes and act in ways that may feel like an incredible nuisance to us adults. But this is when they need us the most. For a moment, imagine yourself at your very worst: needy, angry, lashing out, not able to get people to understand what you need. Would you want the person you love and depend on the most to turn their back on you, or would you want them to open their arms and let you know they love you, no matter what?

I am far from a perfect mother, but one thing I know is that my daughter chose me for a reason. There is so much about her that I relate to and can connect with on a very deep level. At times, that can make our relationship painful and overwhelming, but at other times I can see that my ability to resonate with her is beginning to heal her and in doing that, I know I am healing myself, too.

Control Your Child! Mindful Parenting and Respectful Language

“From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.”
~ Cat Stevens

Those of us who practice respectful parenting will, on occasion, get told that our children are misbehaving or being rude because we’re not strict enough. We may even get scolded and told to control our children. This sort of thing happens most often when your child is behaving in a way some other adult deems inappropriate.

A child who is labeled by others as being “out of control” can cause a range of emotions for his parents including embarrassment, anger, shame, defensiveness, aggressiveness, even self righteousness. In our efforts to handle our confused emotions we aren’t always our best selves.

Perhaps you would never tell another parent to control their children. But I wonder – if we were all to be very honest – how many of us have moments when we are actually trying to control our own children.

Don’t do that.
Don’t touch that.
Stop singing so loudly.
Sit still until we’ve all finished our meal!
If you don’t stop bothering your sister you won’t get to go to the park later!
Give Henry that toy, he’s been waiting a long time.

And even though we may use different words, what we’re conveying is, “Control yourself! Or, if you can’t, I will do it for you!” There’s a difference, of course, between controlling a child and setting firm boundaries for him or her – but many adults who practice a more old-school way of parenting don’t always see this. Instead of offering their understanding when a child is having a hard time, they can opt, instead, for loudly admonishing the offending parent to make sure their children behave more appropriately.

sensitive boySome months ago I took my son to a children’s museum while we were on vacation together in San Francisco. After a few, long hours moving from one display to another and a giant tantrum about a dropped lollipop (through which I managed to remain remarkably patient and connected) I told him we would be leaving shortly and he should pick one last area to visit. He decided on an area where the kids could make huge soap bubbles.

He was tired and still grumpy from the lollipop episode. I was worn out from holding space for him during the lollipop episode. I watched as he played just a little too excitedly, splashing others with bubble liquid. I could feel my stress rising. I asked him to be careful. He ignored me. I got a little more stressed. Then I noticed a couple of other kids waiting for him to finish so they could take their turn. Without thinking, I called out to him to remember to share the bubble wand and he totally blew a gasket.

“I JUST STARTED PLAYING!” he screamed at me. I was embarrassed, angry and surprised. In a better moment I would have gone over to talk to him gently. But I was wiped out and fed up with speaking gently so instead I stomped over and grabbed the bubble maker from his hand. Actually, I had to pry it out of his hand (while, I am certain, everyone in the museum watched me parent in this totally disrespectful way).

Fortunately, I realized what I was doing and was able to take a deep breath and step back from the angry feelings. I sat with him and talked about it all. He cried a little, I hugged him, I apologized. So did he. We were OK. If only I had said it was time to go then.

Not the actual Pickle Lady, but a very good likeness.Instead, I let him have another 5 minutes with the bubbles. As I sat watching him from a few feet away, I saw him stand next to some people who had a little girl. He looked over at her and then reached for the bubble maker laying in the soap in front of her and began playing with it. An older woman (who looked as if she had been sucking on a pickle the way her face was so pinched and sour) immediately gave him an irritated look, roughly grabbed the bubble ring out of his hand and gave it to the little girl while directing some sharp words at my son.

Granted, I couldn’t hear her, but I could see her face and body language. I walked over and said to her that I would appreciate it if she would not speak so rudely to my son. She immediately got angry and told me that he should not have taken the ring from the little girl (who I assume was her granddaughter) and that I should Control My Son.

With blood beginning to boil, I managed to calmly say that I don’t control him, as he is a human being. Yeah, that was a good one, right? Score one for me! Except I felt like such a hypocrite as it came out of my mouth because I had done almost exactly what she did just 5 minutes earlier.

She turned her back on me, walked away in a huff while Grandpa gave me a parting shot of “Yeah! Control your kid so everyone else can have a good time!”

WTF???

Well, it didn’t end there. Next, a younger woman (who I think was pickle lady’s daughter) walked over to me and said that she had seen the whole thing and pickle lady did nothing wrong; the little girl was only two and how old was my son after all (all with a look of “really, you should know better”). Then the kicker: “you should model better behavior for your son!”

brain explosionMy brain was starting to malfunction because there was a part of me that couldn’t argue with her. Yes, I should model better behavior, but not in the way she meant. In this moment I was standing up for my son and not letting outsiders attack him. But hadn’t I just tried to control his behavior a few minutes earlier myself? Yes, I had repaired that, but did everyone else know that – had they all seen me acting so aggressively?

What I wish I could have responded to her with was, “well, he’s 5 1/2, how old is your mother? Don’t you think she should model better behavior to both my son and her granddaughter? If it were me, I would have bent down, so I was looking him in the eye, and nicely pointed out to him that this little girl was still using the bubble maker so would he please give it back? I wouldn’t have grabbed it out of his hand and scolded him. He’s as much of a child as the two year old.”

Of course, I was so shocked that these crazy people were attacking me left and right, and calling me a bad parent, that I couldn’t think straight. I just wanted to hide and get out of there. But the other reason I didn’t say all of that was that a part of me felt that doing so would have been totally dishonest because I was simultaneously beating myself up for being a bad parent.

I mean, I think I would have bent down and spoken respectfully had I been in pickle lady’s shoes, but when I was triggered by my son’s yelling at me, I treated him just as disrespectfully as this woman had. I treated him as if it wasn’t OK for him to have those big feelings, that because I was bigger than him I could simply take something away from him and scold him. I tried to control him.

I was so angry, embarrassed and mostly frustrated that I hadn’t made my point. I knew that family had walked away feeling as though they were totally in the right and were probably talking about “that crazy mother from the museum” all the way home. As I bent down to zip up my son’s jacket, tears started coming down my face. He asked what was wrong.

I told him I was upset because those people had been mean and because they told me I should control him. He asked what that meant and I said it means that some adults think children don’t need to be respected as people and that kids should just do what they’re told.

Just do what you’re told.
You don’t have a voice.
You don’t have to be treated as an equal to me because you’re a child.

If pickle lady had connected with him, he would have told her, as he told me, that he thought the little girl was done playing with the bubble maker. Had she talked to him he would have easily given it back and played somewhere else.

Respectful dialogue makes all the difference. Of course we all may all forget from time to time, and we don’t always have perfect control over our own emotions or triggers. Somehow it strikes me that pickle lady and her family never gave a moment’s thought to treating children in a respectful way – their reaction to my son smelled of the sort of response people give who believe children are to be controlled and corrected until they do things the way we adults think they should do it. Never mind what the child may think.

This incident upset me so much that I obsessed about it and cried for more than half the day afterwards. I tried to write this post at the time but it has sat in my computer for nearly a year since. At first I ignored it because I was too angry to have it make any sense, then because I couldn’t quite figure out what I was trying to say about the experience. What was it about the incident that had so bothered me even all these months later?

There’s a part of it that has to do with my nakedness in that moment. I had behaved in a way I was embarrassed about. And in my humiliation it was as if every other moment of connected parenting was erased. I hate being “seen” in moments of weakness or error. There was a part of it that ate away at me because of the sense of not being listened to – by my son at first, then by the crazy family – always a very sore spot for me.

And then it struck me that what I said about my son at the beginning of the altercation with this family is all there is to say: I don’t control my child because he is a human being. Respecting him in his wholeness as a person is all I have ever tried to do. All I can do is to do my best to recognize his triggers, set him up for success by scaffolding for him and then be there to support him if he fails.

And I have to do the same for myself. There are times when I will be far from a perfect parent. But I know I am an aware parent and I am willing to admit my shortcomings and my mistakes. I still need to learn not to be so concerned about what others think of me, but every day I get a bit better at being mindful of it all. And because of this, my son is developing, among other things, a sense of self-control and awareness of his surroundings. And most importantly, he knows he is worthy of respect.

So next time someone speaks unkindly to him he may just be able to respond and stand up for himself with a little less help from me – even if it is a cranky old pickle lady scolding him. And maybe all of this modeling for him will teach me how to stand up for myself as well.

Can You Accept Your Children For Who They Are?

My summer turned out to be more intense than I expected and what was supposed to be a short break from writing turned into a 3 month hiatus. My apologies to those of you who have been wondering where I have been. And for those who didn’t miss me, well, here I am anyway!

One bit of writing I managed to do was to interview the multi award-winning author, Andrew Solomon, who wrote an amazing book called “Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity” for an article on The Mother Company’s website about accepting your children for who they are. His answers were extremely insightful and compassionate. I’m very excited to share the beginning of the article here (click over to The Mother Company to read the full piece and if you like it, please share it)!

———–

An interview with Andrew Solomon

Accepting your children for who they are can be difficult. In some cases, parents live vicariously through their children’s successes. Others have a vision for the life their child will lead and struggle when s/he can’t or won’t fulfill that fantasy. My own parents weren’t thrilled with my initial desire to become a fashion designer. Instead, their dream was for me to use my talents to be a “real” artist. This difficulty in understanding and accepting me was a painful one and ultimately caused a rift, taking some time to repair. Understanding and accepting who your children are, as opposed to who you want them to be is fundamental to being a connected parent. I asked Andrew Solomon, award-winning author of Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity to share his thoughts on this subject.

How can parents come to terms with the fact that the vision they have for their children does not match how the children are turning out?

All parenting involves striking a balance between changing your child and accepting your child. Those are two disparate objectives. We change our children in a thousand ways: we educate them; we teach them manners and character; we vaccinate them; we toilet train them and show them how to brush their teeth. We also need to recognize the qualities in them that are immutable: their basic personality and character, their sexuality, their intelligence. Parents are constantly in what I’ve called the Serenity Prayer bind, trying to figure out what aspects of their child to change and what aspects to accept, because it is often impossible to tell the difference. Parents should understand, however, that they need to achieve love and recognition, and that while love comes, ideally, at birth, recognition takes time. Parents whose children are different from them must consider the child’s interests ahead of their own, and do what they can to ensure that their child has a worthy, joyful, impassioned life, even if that life veers away from the parents’ ideals.

Some parents seem to experience their child’s difference as a narcissistic injury—they see it as changing who they, the parents, are. They don’t see it as the child’s experience separate from them. Of course, our identity is dramatically shifted by our children, so there is a level at which it’s true that children are altering our selves, but we need to avoid seeing the change as primarily a change in us, and to see it, instead, as an essential matter for our children.

What are the best ways for parents to connect with their children when their temperament is markedly different from their own?

The first step for such parents is self-education. Parents should learn about the issue involved. If the child has a dramatic difference or a disability, there is much to be learned from both online resources and print ones. It’s often useful to find parent groups dealing with the same challenge; the company of others helps to clarify the situation, and the stories people tell about bridging the gap can be transformative. The most important thing, however, is to assure this different child that he or she is deeply beloved, to describe and acknowledge the variation in temperament, and to make the child a partner in finding a language in which to understand such difference.

What questions should parents ask themselves to know whether they are truly accepting of their child just as he or she is?

I think of the father of a transgender daughter who was in a counseling session. The therapist asked, “Does it make your child happy for you to persist in calling her he?” The father said it did not. The therapist asked, “Would it make your child happy if you called her she?” The father said it would. The therapist said, “What is it that’s more important to you than your child’s happiness?” I think parents have to ask themselves all the time what their child’s interests are and how they as parents can serve those interests. They have to think constantly of how their ego needs differ from their child’s, and to look at whether their behavior will result in their child’s optimal outcome.

When Sibling Rivalry Turns To Sibling Bullying

“Historically [sibling bullying] has been accepted as something that’s 
normal, as something that’s benign. Oftentimes it’s just dismissed. 
Some people actually view it as a good thing, thinking it teaches 
kids how to fight and develop conflict resolution skills.”
~ Corrina Jenkins Tucker

This Huffington Post article about sibling aggression started making the rounds Monday on the web. Over the years, much has been written about the ways siblings relate to each other. Usually it has to do with the type of squabbles that people refer to as “common” among siblings: jealousy, difficulty sharing, taking each other’s possessions and the like. But this article references a recent study that took a look at how sibling aggression affected children’s mental health.

“‘This study is the first to unequivocally show that sibling aggression is connected to mental health problems among youth,’Swearer said. ‘In order to effectively treat mental health problems in youth, parents and mental health providers must recognize and understand the role that sibling aggression plays.'”

The study, at times, references this behavior as “sibling bullying”. Although bullying, as a whole, has been looked at in great detail, this aspect of it is an entirely new one for researchers to focus on. For those of us with more than one child, it may also feel like an entirely new thing to be concerned about.

The relationship your children have with each other can have an enormous impact on them. So much so, that it often will shape how they relate to others as they grow. Who else do they interact with as much as their siblings? Who else do they practice their interpersonal skills with as much as with each other? Who knows them as intimately as their siblings and thus, whose words can uplift or cut down as much as a sibling’s?

But before you begin to worrying that your kids are inflicting lifelong psychological harm on each other, please be aware that all of this can be mitigated by the parents’ role in the home. It would be highly unlikely that involved, connected, aware and mindfully present parents would have children who abused each other on an ongoing basis. But in case you’re concerned, I asked Pattie Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After for her thoughts on the difference between typical sibling behavior and the sort of aggressive behavior this article refers to:

“I think the biggest difference between normal/healthy sibling squabbles and sibling bullying is whether or not there is an intention to hurt or humiliate the sibling, to use power/control or manipulation in an aggressive manner. Parents certainly should be alert and informed in both instances. I remember having sibling squabbles with my sisters when we were younger, but we all knew that we loved each other and would defend each other till the end if needed. We still do.

Another important factor is the frequency of the bullying or squabbles. If there are more “bad times” than “good times” parents should step in and see what’s going on. I have known siblings who were bullied by their brother or sister, and it had a lasting impact on how they developed as adults. As always, no one size fits all answer, but something that should never be overlooked.”

As I said earlier, it is unlikely that sibling bullying would happen in a home with connected parenting being practiced, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen or that there aren’t ways for all of us to improve the way our children interact with each other. As the research points out, “Children who experienced even just one, relatively mild act of sibling aggression in the past year reported greater mental health distress than those who had not.”

So what’s a parent to do?

Building The Sibling Bond

helping each otherI wrote a post earlier in the year about increasing the bond of friendship and love between siblings and have, for a long time, felt that this is an aspect that is often left out of the advice given on parenting siblings. We all long for ways to stop their rivalry and their fighting, but without the foundation of love and respect, how can we really expect them not to fight?

Here are a couple of additional posts of mine that deal with sibling relationships:

Choose Your Words Carefully

Our language, and the way we choose to communicate with children, reflects who they are and how they see themselves. A child who experiences himself as lovable or as a valued part of the family is less likely to feel the sort of disconnection that pushes him to be aggressive toward his siblings.

How do we help our children feel this sense of self-esteem? This sort of connection begins with ideas like respectful communication, understanding their stages of development so we don’t expect more from them than they are capable of, empathetic listening so our children know we accept all of their emotions and more.

Respectful communication, in part, means modeling the sort of language and behaviors we want our children to emulate. Be mindful of your habit to, perhaps, bark orders (“get your shoes!”, “brush your teeth!”) or to make commands (“stop touching that!”, “turn off the TV!”) and instead remember to speak to your children as you would a trusted friend and invite them to do things: “It’s almost time for bed. Let’s get your teeth brushed!” or “I see how much you like that photo on the table. I’m concerned it will break if you keep touching it though. Let’s look at it together!”

Here are a few posts on these ideas

Know Your Children

sister's hugThat sounds like a silly thing to say, but if you think about sibling aggression in relation to each of of your children, you might realize that each of them can handle a different amount of teasing, roughhousing, arguing and so forth.

Knowing this helps you gauge when simple sibling dynamics may have shifted to something that is making one or more of your kids uncomfortable, or worse. When you really make an effort to get to know them each as individuals, you are more likely to notice when something is “off”. This means to say that you need to spend quality time with your kids since this important for their development throughout the years.

Getting to know them deeply requires some extra effort on our parts. But the payoff is so amazing that I can’t think of anything more worth our time.

A couple of posts on the idea of paying attention:

Building a Community of Support

sibling solutions podcastOne of the best ways to help our children is to have support for ourselves as parents. When we feel burned out, frustrated, at the end of our rope…we need someone to lean on and someone to turn to for advice. If we don’t have that, we are more likely to be “tuned out”.

One of my favorite resources is Hand in Hand Parenting. I often turn to their site looking for articles or a teleseminar on a topic I might be struggling with.

Right now they’re actually filling up a class on parenting siblings and have offered my readers a special discount. The class is normally $295, but with the discount, it’s $235, or $60 off. There are only a few spots left, so check it out now!

Hand in Hand Parenting also has a wonderful selection of classes this summer on everything from single parenting to handling aggression.

In addition to Hand In Hand, there are amazing communities all over the web. Just a few of the ones I love are:

  • Janet Lansbury’s community forum for parents practicing RIE parenting (with a section for people to connect locally as well)
  • RIE/Mindful Parenting – a private Facebook group for parents
  • The Parent’s Break Room – a private Facebook group with a focus on respectful parenting for parents whose children are not developing in a neuro-typical way (this is a group I started and moderate)
  • Teaching Children Empathy – “We are a group of teachers, parents, and parenting coaches devoted to children. We believe that teaching empathy and emotional intelligence is the best way to create peace in our own families, and by extension peace throughout the world.”

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Ultimately, our children look to us to guide them in how to relate to each other. It’s vitally important that we take seriously the way our children treat each other. I know if you’re reading this it is not likely that your children are aggressively bullying each other, but there are very subtle ways kids can bully or feel bullied.

It’s appropriate for them to express feelings of anger toward each other and it’s important to acknowledge a child’s negative feelings toward his or her sibling when it is expressed. At the same time, we have to find ways to strengthen our children’s relationship with each other and teach them appropriate ways to fight, negotiate, make up and be in relation to each other. In that way, we are helping to raise a generation of people who know and trust themselves, who know how to stand up for themselves, how to support someone else and most importantly, how to love and be loved.

The Twin Source – An Interview With The Twin Coach

There are very few twin-specific websites I actually like (which is part of the reason I initially started this blog). But one exception to that sentiment is the website The Twin Source:

“We are five mothers who are all very different, with one thing (well, technically two things) in common: We are mothers of twins.

We have come together to share our personal and unique stories about twin parenthood. Each of our stories is very different. Some of us could have breast-fed forever (Lauren), while others struggled desperately for a few short weeks (Carrie). Some of us went back to our careers straight away (Ashley), while others stayed at home for a little while (Maritza). Some of us hired a nanny (Carrie), while others hosted an au pair (Mari).

We acknowledge and embrace our differences, but we also find commonality and support in the fact that we are each one-of-a-kind twin moms doing the best we can every day.”

I have always found my local multiples club to be one of the best sources of advice and support – especially when my kids were really young. The parents there, for the most part, only have the fact that we’re all parenting multiples in common. Yet there is an instant bond and sense of shared experience that makes them somehow feel like trusted friends. The Twin Source is a lot like that.

So, when one of the founders, Carrie Carroll, asked to interview me, how could I say no?

Hello, Gina! Thank you so very much for taking some time out to talk with The Twin Source. It is a pleasure to have you. On your blog, The Twin Coach, you consistently provide a perspective on parenting that is both honest and informative.

Thank you so much, Carrie. I’m a big fan of The Twin Source and am very glad to have a chance to connect with your readership. And thank you for the compliment on my parenting perspective. My goal in being honest about my own parenting struggles is to help my readers know that they aren’t alone and that they don’t have to be perfect in order to be a good parent!

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on some of the biggest conundrums that twin parents face. But first, tell us about your role as The Twin Coach and your own parenting philosophy.

When my children were born six years ago, I really didn’t have a parenting philosophy at all except that I knew I would love and take care of them. But I have always been an information junkie and a researcher. So I tackled parenting like anything else I am interested in: I researched! Doing this introduced me to the most amazing parenting advocates and helped me begin to be more mindful about my parenting. Editor’s Note: Check out this list of parenting resources compiled by Gina for The Twin Source!

Over time, my philosophy about parenting has been greatly shaped by what I learned about attachment theory, Magda Gerber’s RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), and ultimately the concept of connecting with children through respect and empathy. Additionally, I’ve spent years working on my own triggers so that I can really be present for my children as a better version of myself. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to look critically at yourself, but it’s invaluable when it comes to parenting.

Before my twins were born, and before I became a parenting coach, I had a small wellness center in Los Angeles. My experience as a holistic healer, using energy work and talk therapy with my clients, gave me a great foundation for working with parents. Although I started out focusing on parents of multiples, I quickly realized that having support in learning how to parent respectfully is something that every parent needs. So, although I especially love working with parents of twins, my blog and my parent education sessions are for anyone who wants to be a happier, more mindful, and more connected parent.

As you know, parenting twins comes with a unique set of challenges. Let’s first talk about achieving a healthy parenting dynamic. When two babies arrive at once, there is obviously extra strain placed on new parents. How can they prepare for this, and what should they remember as they tackle the twin experience?

Before the children are born, it’s important to sit down together and discuss things like how you are planning to share responsibilities. It doesn’t need to be 50/50, but resentment is going to build quickly if you don’t have a plan. Additionally, discussing any preconceived notions you might have about twins ahead of time can be really helpful. Sometimes a parent has negative associations with twins they once knew or has fantasy ideas about how twins will be telepathic and should always be together. It’s better to talk about these so you can try to be on the same page and clear the air prior to the birth.

Once the babies are here, be sure to make time for each other. Two babies can be so overwhelming, and it is very easy to forget that the reason those babies are even here is your love for each other. Make time to keep that love strong! Remember that putting an emphasis on your marriage or partnership doesn’t make you bad parents. Your relationship is your children’s first model of what a loving partnership looks like. It creates the foundation from which they will go out into the world to seek their own partners. You want to model a healthy, respectful, loving relationship. If you occasionally need help from a therapist or counselor of some sort, get it! Invest in your partnership as much as you invest in your parenting.

Carrie very nicely also asked me to write a short list of some of my personal favorite parenting resources which you can find. I was doing my best to keep things brief and to the point, so it’s only a partial list!

I hope you enjoy reading the interview!

5 Ways Sportscasting Helps When Parenting Gets Tough

One of the hardest aspects of parenting for me is remaining in a calm and patient frame of mind so that I can model that way of behavior for my children. I know that being mindful in my parenting is key, as is learning how to take a mommy time out. But a third component is helping our children understand that parents have emotions, parents aren’t perfect and that everything is going to be alright even if mom or dad is upset.

Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept. Abused patience turns to fury.
~ Francis Quarles

My father is, perhaps, one of the most patient men I have ever met. And he’s also one of the most sensitive. When I was younger he would experience things I did as hurtful or insulting, but would keep it to himself. Then, after a seemingly insignificant last straw would occur, he would explode. As a child, there was nothing quite so confusing as this. I was unable to connect his anger to a cause that made sense and the intensity of his anger seemed so disproportionate to the offense.

frustrated manThe ability of a parent to be aware of their feelings as they occur, and to let a child in on that process, can be a powerful way not only to connect, but to also reduce the friction with one another. As compassionate parents have turned away from time-outs as a means of stopping children’s negative behaviors, many have realized they need more tools to help themselves cope when things get out of hand.

One of the most powerful ways I have learned to reduce my own stress is by “sportscasting” my feelings. I have often used sportscasting with my children as a way to help them learn how to solve problems for themselves. Janet Lansbury recently wrote an excellent post called Sportscasting Your Child’s Struggles that describes how this is done with young children:

“Sportscasters don’t judge, fix, shame, blame or get emotionally involved. They just keep children safe, observe and state what they see, affording children the open space they need to continue struggling until they either solve the problem or decide to let go and move on to something else” ~ Janet Lansbury

For adults, sportscasting our struggles can be a gateway to mindfulness. As Janet points out, you are simply observing your state of being, and there is no judgment, fix, shame, blame or emotional involvement in your own suffering. But how, exactly, does one go about sportscasting?

1. Pay Attention To Your Body

When you’re with your children, periodically check in with yourself. How do you feel from moment to moment? Are you relaxed? Nervous? Anxious? When you notice you’re moving from relaxed to becoming angry or stressed, give some thought to what is happening in your body. Do your shoulders hunch up toward your ears? Does your jaw become tight? Does your stomach get into a knot? Do you hands form tight fists? Does your face flush? For me, a sure sign that I’m about to pop is that I clench my teeth and feel a sudden rush of heat.

But even before I reach that boiling point I have learned that I often get a sense of being overwhelmed, as if my brain can’t think clearly. I particularly get this way when multiple people are talking to me at once. I also feel my heart beating faster, as if an emergency is happening. Just thinking about this as I type makes my chest tighten and my breathing get shallower.

All of these sensations are fairly subtle and it has taken some time for me to be able to link them to my stress level and to be aware of them instead of letting them flood me. It can be quite difficult to be aware of all of these signals if you are not used to paying attention to your body and especially if you are in the midst of a conflict brewing with your child(ren), but the more awareness you practice, the easier it becomes.

2. Verbalize Your Feelings And Sensations

You’ll likely feel a little silly at first, but give it a try. In a regular tone of voice simply describe what is going on and what you feel. There is no judgment involved, just a statement of facts:

“I feel anxious right now. You are jumping on the couch again and I feel worried that you will fall. I have tension in my tummy and my heart is beating faster.”

“You are throwing your toys on the floor instead of picking them up. I feel pretty frustrated. My jaw feels very tight and my body feels hot.”

“I feel annoyed. You are teasing your sister and making her cry. My chest feels tight and I feel like I want to yell.”

What you will begin to notice as you do this is that you actually start to calm down when you verbalize your feelings. Just like when you sportscast for your child and they feel “felt” and begin to relax, by labeling what you are feeling the part of your brain responsible for telling your body there is danger (the amygdala) is less activated:

“When people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which serves as an alarm to activate a cascade of biological systems to protect the body in times of danger. Scientists see a robust amygdala response even when they show such emotional photographs subliminally, so fast a person can’t even see them. […] The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is located behind the forehead and eyes and has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences. It has also been implicated in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions…”
~ UCLA Newsroom

By not judging the situation (“I’m so angry because you are jumping on the couch!), you don’t set up a power struggle where your child feels the need to defend himself. You are simply stating facts.

In addition to actually calming yourself down by verbalizing how you feel, you are giving young children language to describe their own emotions and helping them to recognize that there is a connection between the sensations in their bodies and what emotions they have. The more you do this and the more you help them connect the dots, the better the dialogue is when big feelings surface (from you or your child)!

3. Model Self-Regulation (It Helps Your Kids do the Same)

emergencyOne of the very helpful things we have learned in my daughter’s social skills class is the idea of green, red and yellow zone emotions.

The green zone is generally where we want to be and to stay — relaxed, calm, at ease, happy, focused and so forth.

The yellow zone is, as with a traffic light, a warning. This is the most subtle emotional zone and often the hardest for people to recognize. When you’re in the yellow zone you may be experiencing frustration, irritation, anxiety, silliness, nervousness, difficulty concentrating and other similar feelings.

The red zone is where you may feel fury, rage, anger, terror, explosive behavior, and other “out of control” emotions. Often people don’t notice their “yellow zone” feelings until they have slipped all the way into red — these are often people who seem to go from “zero to 60” or “flip” from being calm to being enormously angry without warning.

I often talk with my children using this traffic light analogy:

  • let them know how you feel: “I am starting to notice that my feelings are in the yellow zone now. I feel anxious and annoyed. I would like to get back into the green zone so I am going to take a few deep breaths to help me calm down.”
  • focus on the positive: “I was really in the red zone before and felt SO angry! But you reminded me to do a rewind and now I am really in the green zone and feel so calm and happy again. Thank you!”
  • get them to notice how your mood affects theirs: “I notice that when you and your brother are fighting in the car, I have yellow zone feelings like annoyance and frustration. And when it goes on too long, I go right to the red zone! How do you feel when I am in those zones? What can we do to all get back in to the green zone?”

By talking about your feelings you are letting your children know that, yes, adults feel things too! More importantly, you are showing them that you are aware of your feelings and are taking responsibility for them. Be careful not to blame children for your feelings. the point isn’t to say “When you are doing ______ you make me feel _______.” Rather, you are saying, “When you do _______ I feel ______.” A subtle, but important

4. Remember Being Real is Better Than Being Perfect

When children are young, mom and dad are god-like. We can do everything, we know everything and we never ever make mistakes.

Except we do.

By showing your children that you can get upset about things and sometimes lose control, you are teaching them that they don’t need to be perfect. By showing them that you know how to make repairs when you do get angry, you also show them that the relationship doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be cared for and to continually improve.

Our children need real, relatable role models, not perfection. Let them see you, flaws and all. Feel your feelings. Just as we tell our children that none of their feelings are bad, parents need to know this as well.

Those feelings are yours. The good, the bad and the ugly. Own them.

5. Create Safe Spaces

There are times when our children’s behavior will get to us, no matter how much we try to stay in the moment and no matter how many tools we have for helping ourselves stay regulated. It’s times like that when parents often feel the need to take a time out so we can cool down. Parents always ask me, “how can I take a time out from my child when his meltdown is pushing me over the edge? He will feel abandoned and would run after me.”

When children feel dis-regulated or disconnected from those they care about, they are not capable of thinking logically about how you might need a minute or two to calm down so you won’t flip your lid. No, children in that state need your empathy and connection so they can regulate themselves.

However, by sportscasting your emotions as you begin to notice your frustration levels rising, not only are you able to notice that you need to take a break before you flip out, but you can also notice you need to take a break before your child senses any disconnection from you. Because you have been mindful of your emotions and reactions, it is much easier to tell your child in a relaxed way, “I feel a little anxious right now so I am going to step out and cool down for a minute. I will be right back.” There is no anger, no disconnection, no need for your child to feel abandoned or concerned.

Sportscasting means you are just letting your children know how you feel, that you take care of yourself when you feel that way, that you will physically be with them again shortly and that they are safe and not to blame for any part of what is occurring.

Although I may have rolled my eyes at my father when I was a teenager or complained that he talked to me too often about his feelings, today I am so grateful that he had learned to express those emotions to me. That constant desire on his part to connect gave me a rich and expressive language to describe my own thoughts and feelings and, most importantly, made me feel that our father-daughter relationship was important to him.